DENVER – When Patrick Beverley exited the game against Miami with a left adductor strain Nov. 24, it took one of the league's best five-man lineup combinations out of commission temporarily: Beverley, Karl-Anthony Towns, Jarred Vanderbilt, D'Angelo Russell and Anthony Edwards.
Beverley missed the next six games and when he returned, Russell was out for the next two. The Wolves went eight games before the starting lineup was back together again and when it did reunite, the Wolves won Sunday in Portland.
Health and availability are precarious things in the NBA especially with some teams facing many COVID-related absences, so the Wolves need to take advantage of the times they have this starting unit available.
Of five-man lineup combinations, the Wolves' regular starting lineup still has the best net rating in the league (plus-50).
Coach Chris Finch said the group complements each other on both ends of the floor. On defense Beverley and Russell enable everyone else to just fill their roles without trying to compensate for anyone else.
"Pat's really good on the ball, and D-Lo is really good off the ball," Finch said. "That allows us to cover a lot of ground. And then, everyone else has pretty much been their normal selves. That's been the key on the defensive end."
On offense, Beverley's ball-handling ability takes pressure off Russell for being the main facilitator and Beverley can absorb some of the early defensive pressure in a possession and not Russell.
"The amount of movement Pat creates for us is something that doesn't show up on the stat sheet but it's incredibly important and makes a big difference," Finch said.
The lineup also helps take pressure off Edwards offensively. Russell's shotmaking attracts attention away from Edwards, and Beverley's presence eases the burden on Edwards to be a creator. Edwards "doesn't have to do as much" when he's on the floor with this unit.
"He can still be super-effective," Finch said. "He doesn't have to try to handle and create for himself, and create for others. It just kind of lessens his burden."
Russell has the highest net rating of any regular rotation player when he's on the floor (9.4) and the Wolves struggle the most in terms of that statistic when Russell is off the floor (minus-13.6).
Russell credited his improvement on defense this season to some of his fellow starters.
"I never heard my name in defensive conversations until this year," Russell said. "So they have a super effect on that. Watching Vando's tenacity. He's selfless. He plays hard for the ball. He plays hard offensively, defensively. You know you're gonna get that effort from him. And then we've seen Pat do this for some years. He's credible, he's been there."
In the frontcourt, Finch has liked how Vanderbilt and Towns play off each other offensively with Vanderbilt's ability to space the floor helping Towns find room to operate.
"We've been playing better with certain concepts in that," Finch said.
If only they can keep that band together without interruption.